The freezer has been an increasingly critical tool for chefs in recent months, enabling them to continue to serve up meals to-go for immediate heating or later consumption. It will continue to play a key role in restaurant kitchens as operators look to manage fluctuations in customer demand in the months ahead and extend the use of seasonal produce as it becomes more readily available. To minimize deterioration in the quality of frozen food, make sure your staff handles to-be-frozen foods properly. FoodSafetyConnection advises using freezer bags or freezer paper for storing items, squeezing all air out of freezer bags prior to sealing, allowing hot food to cool prior to freezing, and labeling all frozen foods with the use-by date appropriate for the specific item.
The coronavirus has brought new importance to the cleanliness of restaurant facilities – and you may well be cleaning surfaces more regularly now. Your POS equipment needs special care, since improper cleaning and disinfecting can cloud screens or damage other components. The National Restaurant Association advises following the manufacturer’s guidelines for all cleaning and disinfecting, but some general rules apply overall: Before cleaning equipment, make sure your hands are clean and dry. Use a clean microfiber cloth or soft towel – not soap – to clean visible marks on equipment. Don’t pour disinfecting liquids directly onto a POS surface; rather, use a solution that’s at least 60 percent alcohol on a soft towel or microfiber cloth, or use premoistened alcohol wipes.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has addressed the need for good ventilation in its guidance about keeping indoor spaces safe from the coronavirus, overhauling ventilation systems isn’t typically at the top of the list of actions restaurant operators are taking to make their facilities safer right now. There are likely good reasons for that: For one, the challenging economic climate makes it difficult to fathom making a significant investment in an HVAC update. But what if there were more cost-effective ways to improve the air quality in your restaurant? Regular system inspections and maintenance, attention to cleaning products and protocols, and the reconfiguring of your kitchen and dining room can all help. This report from Modern Restaurant Management offers additional guidance (https://bit.ly/2DCTjSa).
Local governments have been focusing on outdoor dining for good reason: As the weather warms and we need air conditioning to keep spaces cool, the risk of spreading virus particles can increase indoors. Recent research from the University of Oregon and the University of California, Davis, found that the path of air circulation within a restaurant plays an important role limiting the spread of the virus, particularly because the air stream in a restaurant can carry virus particles beyond the six-foot social distancing guideline. However, risks improve in situations with a window and an exhaust fan helping to manage air flow. The research team created a visual model to show the differences in transmission in a closed room where indoor air is recirculated and in a room that circulates some outdoor air through a window. While circulating outdoor air isn’t workable in every restaurant or every part of the country, Boston 25 News reports that Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, one of the authors of the research, said you can test a building for the presence of the virus and then take steps to adjust air circulation patterns to minimize risk in your facility.
It can be easy to get caught up in the new bells and whistles that may protect the safety of your restaurant and improve guests’ perception of your safety practices in the months ahead. But you can take some comfort in focusing on the key food safety practices you had been following – plus ensuring your employees wear a mask. A recent survey of 1,000 adults by the International Food Information Council Foundation found that of the food safety actions businesses can take right now, consumers view the wearing of protective equipment, frequent cleaning, the wearing of gloves while working, and the availability of sanitizers or wipes as the most important. While top responses were consistent from April to May, having employees wear masks while working jumped to the top of the list in May – at 36 percent. It sends an extra signal to guests that you value their safety.
If you have invested in systems and sensors to monitor aspects of your restaurant’s food safety protocol, don’t let them give you a false sense of security. The technology is only helpful if it is used to support careful food safety practices already in use. As ComplianceMate advises, make sure you follow up on any inconsistent temperature readings. If your cold-holding equipment has a built-in display that conflicts with the readings from your new temperature sensors, for example, test the temperature with a third sensor to confirm the result. If you automatically trust the built-in reading, you may get an inaccurate result as the in-unit thermostats often fail before the equipment does – and placing trust in the sensors can cause you to overlook potential problems with the new equipment. #foodsafety
If your dishware and utensils aren’t as clean as they could be, they could sicken a guest (or at least leave them with a negative impression of your operation’s cleanliness). Make sure you maintain and clean your dishwasher to ensure it performs as it should. Ecolab advises to first avoid overcrowding the washer, since overlapping dishes can impede water flow. Then monitor the functioning of the unit by checking your gauges’ minimum temperatures, chemical concentrations and pressure measurements against those shown on the data plate. Clean the unit’s wash arms and jets regularly as they may become clogged with food or sediment buildup. Finally, Ecolab advises regular de-liming of the machine, since just one-quarter inch of lime scale can make a heating element use 39 percent more energy.
Staying on top of the maintenance of your facility and equipment can help you avoid accidents and costly repairs or replacements. But where should you focus your energy? In a recent NextRestaurants report, Warren Wu of UpKeep, a software firm that helps businesses manage their maintenance needs, identified four top priorities for preventive maintenance in restaurants: First, clean and sanitize your refrigerators each week. Wu advises that during those sessions, staff should check areas that are prone to failure such as door hinges and gaskets. Second, clean burners, grates and flattops daily to minimize grease buildup, which can cause fires and attract pests. Third, on a weekly or monthly basis, scan your facility for a pest problem or conditions that might cause one – like spills that aren’t promptly cleaned or food being stored improperly. Finally, if you serve beer, clean your keg lines no less frequently than every six weeks to prevent mold, bacteria and other residue from building up.
As the bounty of local summer produce begins to wane in many areas, your cooler can help you store favorite items and draw out the season. Make sure you’re storing ingredients in a way that maximizes your available space and keeps the contents fresher for longer. FreshPoint suggests that you make the most of the cooler space you have by storing items not in the cardboard boxes they arrived in but smallers containers that fit more snugly in your cooler. Order splits instead of full cases, particularly if you have a smaller cooler. Remove items that don’t need to be refrigerated, such as onions and root vegetables. Finally, the cold air in your cooler flows from the back to the front, making certain areas of your cooler colder than others, so make sure you store items where they are happiest – berries and carrots at the back, cucumbers in the middle and apples and melons at the front.
Making do with less-than-adequate kitchen equipment can lead to a safety issue for your staff and guests, impact your restaurant’s performance and consume excess energy. Does any of your equipment require frequent servicing or parts replacement? Does your chef have to adapt his or her use of equipment to avoid injury? Is there equipment that can save space in your kitchen by accomplishing multiple tasks — or save on energy? (For example, a piece of kitchen equipment like a countertop food steamer that uses less water than a basic model could potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the product.) Checking your tools against the NSF’s Certified Food Equipment list can help you identify effective and efficient replacements of kitchen equipment and tools that aren’t serving you as well as they could.